So this month’s post is ethically challenging. A few weekends ago, I had so much to do. You know those weekends…..best of intentions to spring clean etc. Well, my sock drawer remains a mess as I spent the whole time on family history. But had a major break through in the case of Mum’s DNA and her search for new relatives. So, I thought it would be good to share the process I went through – at the very least so I remember how I arrived at my conclusions and perhaps it will help or inspire someone else to look for their relatives.
When Mum’s DNA results came in and her DNA paternity was suddenly brought into question, a name came to mind straight away. I will call him ‘John Smith’ because it is in fact quite a distinct name and I don’t want this all getting back to the ‘Smith’ family before we can confirm things. Mum spoke to her Uncle about her DNA test ‘problem’. She didn’t mention her suspicions but asked her Uncle if there was anyone at the time who Nanna may have been seeing. Oddly enough ‘John Smith’ was the first, and only, name her Uncle mentioned. Apparently, Nana and ‘John Smith’ were a well known item at various times.
As mentioned it is a pretty distinct name, and so I went through Mum’s DNA results on both Ancestry and FamilyTreeDNA and……there in her matches with DNA cousins, is this same distinct name! And there are enough occurrences that it couldn’t really be a coincidence. Then last week, we had a message from one of these DNA ‘cousins’, who is in New Zealand. She has that same very distinctive surname too. It seems the DNA cousin wasn’t related to our ‘John Smith’, but gave us the name of a branch of the family who were known to have settled in Australia in the 1800’s – ‘William and Marth Smith’. With only those two names, I spent Friday evening starting a new family tree in ancestry – madly following green leaves and hints off other trees to find all their descendants.
That evening, I had a pretty well developed family tree for ‘William and Martha Smith’. There is no confirmed paper trail (like all good genealogists should have) but it was a rough tree. And from it I discovered that ‘William and Martha Smith’ had son ‘John’ who also had a son ‘John’! And the ages and locations more or less match with our ‘John Smith’. It was beginning to look more and more positive.
For obvious privacy and security reasons, you can’t get records for living people (ie. no birth certificates for the past 100 years). But as it was such a distinct surname, I searched Trove (Australia’s online newspaper record) and found a lot of Family Notices for that name. Family Notices in the newspapers are great. I found funeral notices for people that listed their brothers and sisters (married names) and children. Everything but the family dog. A family historians dream. My weekend was then spent piecing together dozens of these notices, and filling out the tree with dates and even more names. I now have a half decent looking tree – not bad for a Saturday.
So I then went to the New South Wales (NSW) BDM database and searched all the ‘Smiths’…just to see what came up. Although you don’t get all the details, the search record result gives you enough clues to work out who you are looking for, so you can then order the certificate. And there was a record for our ‘John Smith’ marrying an ‘Anne Jones’ – the dates and location all seem about right. So I think I am on the right track. (For the record, Nanna and Grandad were divorced not too long after Mum was born; and long before ‘John Smith’ married Anne, so he at least was not having an affair.)
I then tried a google search for ‘John Smith’ and now found some hits on the Myheritage website that seemed to match. I signed up for a free one month trial and was away……now I was even able to find photos of ‘William and Martha Smith’ and their children on one of the online trees. No obvious resemblance to Mum, but there is the same distinct smile in the great-grandmother.
One of the family trees on Myheritage, is managed by a reasonably close relative. Sadly it noted that our ‘John Smith’ had died many decades ago at quite a young age. It gave his wife’s name as (nee Jones) which is the same as NSW BDM records, and also had the married surnames of his two daughters (no first names). So close. Oh so close!
How do I now find living relatives? I decided then to go back a step and fill in some details on ‘John Smith’. My ancestry account doesn’t include access to Australian records. Instead, I searched Findmypast and the first record I opened was a transcript of his headstone. There, on the transcript, is the name of his wife and two daughters. Now I have their first and married names!
In what felt very stalkerish, I then went to a more modern tool….Facebook. Within moments I found both girls, and their mother! I can’t say the resemblance is overwhelming between the girls and my Mum. It’s certainly not enough that you could say for sure that they were half-sisters. But can you say there is a resemblance just from a couple of photos alone? I certainly don’t think I look a lot like my own sisters. But my younger sister is the only blonde hair blue eyed one in our family, and there is a resemblance with her and this possible new family. Funny though – it was always thought my sister took after our grandad on our Dads side?!
But now, where does that leave us?! Have I really found them? Do we want to contact htem? It is one thing to email someone interested in family history about a common ancestor. It’s an entirely different matter to tell someone that you think they are half-sisters with your Mum, and would they mind taking a DNA test to be sure! Thinking about how I would feel in their situation, I am inclined to leave it – at least for now. Mum has a family already and is happy. And so do they. They looked happy and there is no burning need or desire from us to get in touch…not like some on ‘Find my Family’ who really need closure.
But, ‘John Smith’ died very young….what if there is a genetic illness we should know about? Ultimately the decisions is Mum’s to take. Perhaps in the meantime I might just order his death certificate.
There is no manual on this situation. And if there is…..can you please email me? We’d really like to read it.